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February 15, 2007

Comments

Not that optimistic that Cheney/Bush would care even for their own party. And as I repeatedly said, starting a war is easy (and I doubt that a carrier commander would refuse to follow a direct order from the White House), stopping it after it has begun is not.
The only way I see is an act of congress that would explicitly threaten anyone following such an un-(congress)-authorized order to attack with immediate court martial and summary execution without regard for rank.
But that is nothing I'd expect to pass either this or any former congress.
[still doesn't cover a Jack D. Ripper action]

And that’s why I support a litmus test on Iran for Democrats while this President is in office.

No Democrat is going to be elected to national office for the rest of President Bush's term. Therefore, this litmus test as stated doesn't seem to actually call for doing much. I suppose you could attempt to punish Democrats currently in office who fail to sign on, but any consequences (and I'm dubious how significant those will be) will not arrive until after it is too late.

Andrew, I assume that the litmus test is intended to convince the Democrats who have been conned into thinking that if they don't support whatever war Bush is going to lie them into next, it'll hurt them on election box - that if they do support the next Bushwar, it'll hurt them even worse.

I don't know a single politician, except one who's planning to resign their seat or who is ineligible for re-election, who doesn't have an eye on what the voters will do at the next election, especially when it's less than two years off.

OT: Rudy says he's not confident the war will turn around.

i'm confident i'm not voting for Rudy.

Publius:

Your point is well taken but I think you are overestimating the stock Bush puts into Congressional Republican opposition to any military action he might take against Iran.

Simply put, he could care less about the Republican party anymore. It's about his legacy now - seeing himself as a latter day Truman (see excellent piece in Newsweek on this).

Despite rumblings to the contrary, I don't think the Administration will attack Iran - not unless things improve dramatically in Iraq. The chances of the Iranians really making trouble for us in Iraq (instead of the pinpricks they've hit us with so far) are too great. They could unleash the Shias at the drop of a hat which would enormously complicate our efforts.

crap innuendo spiked with demagoguery

I think I saw that on a Starbucks menu ;)

We shouldn’t pretend that we’re at a university coffee shop debating the philosophical merits of what we should or shouldn’t do if Iran takes this or that hypothetical action. The truth -- which everyone knows -- is that if we strike Iran, it’s going to be based on crap innuendo spiked with demagoguery, just like the last one. Rational discourse won’t stop anything. Appeals to procedure and constitutional power won’t either. Only political fear.

Amen and amen.

The only way I see is an act of congress that would explicitly threaten anyone following such an un-(congress)-authorized order to attack with immediate court martial and summary execution without regard for rank.

I don't think courts martial and execution are within Congress's power to order or enforce.

What is in their power is open support for impeachment of both Bush and Cheney if they go ahead without authorization. Other levers might include credible threats of criminal investigation of pretty much anything over the last 6 years. They could start small, say by impeaching Gonzales. That would get everyone's attention.

It shouldn't be that hard to make them sweat, there's a lot there to work with.

Therefore, this litmus test as stated doesn't seem to actually call for doing much.

On my computer desktop is a file containing the names of every Democratic member of Congress that voted for the Military Commissions Act. Any primary challenger running against any of these folks will receive financial assistance from me next time their seat is up.

I'll be writing them to that effect. You could do the same in this context. Do that enough times, and it makes a dent. "Enough times" is probably a smaller number than you might think.

They won't be running against Bush, but you can make them run against their own record.

Thanks -

"The only way to make that happen is to politicize the issue and to make sure that the public knows that striking Iran is a Republican + Lieberman thing."

You sure had a lot of success politicizing the war issue, in getting rid of Lieberman...

Oh, wait -- you didn't get rid of Lieberman, pushing that particular button.

And what do you mean when you say you "support a litmus test on Iran for Democrats while this President is in office" ??

Does that mean you're willing to go to war with Iran, when the next president's in office? Say H.Clinton, or J.Edwards, who have publically stated in no uncertain terms Iran CANNOT be allowed to go nuclear?

Agnostic Gnome,
Bush has the anti-Midas touch. everything he's tried has failed. he shouldn't be allowed to start anything larger than a baseball season, ever again.

if he was even semi-competent, if he'd handled Afghanistan and Iraq with even minimal competency, people might not be so worried about the prospect of him starting another war.

in other words: it's silly to think anyone else (even a *gasp* Democrat) would handle the Iran situation the way people fear Bush is about to.

Oh, wait -- you didn't get rid of Lieberman, pushing that particular button.

Well, Lieberman did have to leave the Democratic Party, and the only reason he got elected was because of majority Republican support. So people in Connecticut weren't able to keep him out of the Senate, but it is now obvious which side he really represents.

Not only that, but seeing what happened to Lieberman allowed some Democrats to find their spines and actually start talking about the war in ways that got a lot of Republicans thrown out of office. Lamont didn't win the general, but he played an important role in the Democratic takeover of Congress.

Holy turdball! I got a link! Woohoo! Who ever said harrassment and stalking didn't payoff? And added with a link from Crooks and Liars, this has been my lucky day. My Publius is indeed an awesome Publius, even if he's whoring at the wrong blog.

And just to say something on-topic, I'll leave you with the advice I gave on a post I just finished on this very issue:

If anyone ever starts a conversation with you by stating that they retain the right to kill you, you probably should try to end the conversation as quickly as possible. And that's exactly what the neo-cons intend for Iran to do.

Dr. Biobrain: who're you calling the wrong blog?? This is always the right blog. It has always been the right blog. That fact just became a lot more obvious once we got our Awesome Publius™.

Dr. Biobrain: Word to the wise… Do not mess with the hilzoy. She will hurt you dude.

hilzoy, that should be 'since ObWi became Publisonian'. Initial notes on an ObWi Style guide here

it's tough to defeat dr. biobrain -- you can only hope to contain him.

I thought this was the left blog? Have I been misinformed yet again?

Andrew: we were hoping to regain our original ambidextrous status, but someone who shall remain nameless still writes all these great posts which he only posts on his own blog.

I name no names.

i think i know who you're talking about

It seems to me that if Congress is serious they should use their power to declare if there is a state of war or not ot pass a law that says that we are not in a state of war with Iran and that any military action against the territory of Iran requires that Congress declare war against Iran. BTW, I think this is also the basis for a law on Iraq. Declare the war with the nation-state of Iraq is concluded and that the effect of any previous authorization of military force for action in the territory of Iraq expires on January 20, 2009 unless there is a new declaration by Congress. The President, as commander-in-chief, would then be expected to wind down the war as he left office and every candidate in the 2008 election would have to take a stand on what would happen on January 20, 2009 if there were still troops there. I think that we might still want to keep some troops nearby and maybe even in Kurdistan for awhile, but any president to be should be expected to have to ask for authority to do so after 1.20.2009.

Er, gregspolitics....

I live in the DC area, and I've lately started a new hobby: When I run across a military officer, I ask him how he would respond to a Presidential order for, say, bombing Iran, even in light of a Congressional measure like the one you describe. So far my sample size is tiny: A navy Lt. Cdr., an air force Lt. Col., and a navy Cdr. who's an aviator. Even so, the results are pretty damn discouraging -- without skipping a beat, they were all emphatic that the Presidential order trumps everything.

It's a little awkward waylaying these guys, but what the hell, we're supposed to be citizens in a democracy, no? Anyway, the conversations have all been civil. But if the trend continues, the (pretty explicit) Constitutional delegation of war-making power to Congress is for all practical purposes about as significant as the amendment quartering soldiers in citizens' houses.

In general, I think the political structures set up by the Constitution are profoundly broken.

I don't think courts martial and execution are within Congress's power to order or enforce. [russell]

No expert on constitutional law but isn't the institution (or is it instituting?) of courts a privilege of congress?
It might not be called a court martial but the purpose would be the same.
I do of course realize that it would be impossible to get a veto-proof majority for that.

sglover: without skipping a beat, they were all emphatic that the Presidential order trumps everything.

And you really would not want it to be otherwise. We’ve touched on this in other threads, but you really would not want the military deciding what orders they would or would not follow. They are citizens in a Democracy (well a Republic) and to that end their vote counts just as much as yours. Once they cast their vote that is the end of their decision making leeway (strategically anyway). Civilian control of the military is a cornerstone of this nation.

Well, Lieberman did have to leave the Democratic Party, and the only reason he got elected was because of majority Republican support.

Pesky majority.

As far as I remember, soldiers don't swear their oath to the CiC but to the constitution.
If they have to conclude that the president acts against the explicit will of Congress, they have to make the decision who is actually exceeding the authority given by the constitution.
If indeed Congress declares (beforehand) that it has not authorized the use of armed forces and will not do so, then I consider it the duty of every soldier to refuse to obey presidential orders that are in defiance of this explicit will of Congress (except in extraordinary circumstances).
And that is just the constitutional question. Above and beyond that I consider it a soldier's duty to check orders for legality and take the proper steps if in doubt.
Yes, it can be illegal even if the president does it. Do not listen to Dick or that Yoo fellow!

As far as I remember, soldiers don't swear their oath to the CiC but to the constitution.

Hmmm...IANAL, but I've seen a few legal arguments to the effect that the Executive has been granted war powers by precedent, and that these war powers are limited in time by the War Powers Act. If the president does have the legal authority to direct acts of war against another country over a limited span of time, how do you propose to constrain those powers?

I think I've heard it argued here that "Constitutional" means not only by the actual words of the Constitution, but also by precedent and judicial decision. It'd be interesting to hear what that means in this context.

All of that aside, I don't think a discussion of whether our current rules are what we'd like them to be is out of bounds, I just question whether they're in conflict with the Constitution, because that's what Hartmut's comment seems to say.

I am not a lawyer either.
Has there been a precedent where the president used the war powers against the explicit will of Congress?
Acting while there is no say of Congress either pro or con is one thing (and in that case the default option would be obeying), if there on the other hand is an explicit contra by Congress then one could as well scrap parts of the constitution completely, if the president could legally ignore it.

I am just happy to live under a legal system were precedent is not binding but just considered as helpful.

Has there been a precedent where the president used the war powers against the explicit will of Congress?

Explicit will? What's that mean?

I believe WPA provides Congress with the authority to, in effect, turn a war off, but I don't think it provided Congress with the authority to prevent it from starting. I could be wrong about that, though, because IADNAL, and my eyes start glazing over sometime after the third or fourth paragraph.

My sense (and I am a lawyer, but this isn't a field where my knowledge is exhaustive) is that there really aren't any judicial precedents -- courts avoid political questions, and conflicts between Congress and the President over control of the military haven't played out in the courts.

So this "but I've seen a few legal arguments to the effect that the Executive has been granted war powers by precedent", is a little off, in terms of what 'precedent' means. My understanding is that it's not 'judicial precedent', in that courts have okayed expansive war powers for the Executive, it's more that Presidents have exercised war powers and no one has effectively stopped them. You could interpret that as saying that the President has the power to override Congress, as demonstrated by acting without Congressional authority, or as saying that in those situations Congress had tacitly consented to the President's actions, thereby authorizing them. There isn't real precedent that I know of addressing what happens in a square conflict between the President and Congress over this stuff.

Ah. I hadn't noted the .de extension on your email.

I was just recalling recently how in High School German class, we'd thought that the frequent mention of yearning for Wiedervereinigung that we'd see in der Spiegel and other magazines seemed unlikely to ever happen without war.

This was in the late 1970s, of course.

Guess we were wrong about that, but it's one of those cases where having been wrong is a good thing.

it's more that Presidents have exercised war powers and no one has effectively stopped them

Yes, that's what I meant, but also that the War Powers Act has effectively granted that the President had those powers to begin with.

section 5(c) states that:

(c) Notwithstanding subsection (b) [relating to the 60 day limit], at any time that United States Armed Forces are engaged in hostilities outside the territory of the United States, its possessions and territories without a declaration of war or specific statutory authorization, such forces shall be removed by the President if the Congress so directs by concurrent resolution.

It wouldn't be too hard to interpret that section as preventing from initiating hostilities in the first instance if Congress had expressed its disapproval in advance, IMO.

preventing "the president" from initiating, that is

Sure, if it were worded that way. Is "concurrent resolution" synonymous with "nonbinding resolution? And then there's that legislative veto bit, which I still don't understand.

And you really would not want it to be otherwise. We’ve touched on this in other threads, but you really would not want the military deciding what orders they would or would not follow. They are citizens in a Democracy (well a Republic) and to that end their vote counts just as much as yours. Once they cast their vote that is the end of their decision making leeway (strategically anyway). Civilian control of the military is a cornerstone of this nation.

I think you're missing the point. The question I'm asking these officers is essentially this: If two branches of legitimate civilian authority are in exact opposition, which one would you listen to, defer to?

Is "concurrent resolution" synonymous with "nonbinding resolution?"

No idea, I suspect not if the resolution explicitly says it's nonbinding.

And then there's that legislative veto bit, which I still don't understand.

You mean the President's veto or the Congress' veto over the President's decision to place troops in harm's way?

Hmmm...on reading the WPA a bit more carefully, it...well, kind of sucks, as legislation.

And, well, I've got to retract that comment upthread about WPA granting that the President already has certain powers, although if the President DOESN'T have those powers, most of the WPA is nonsense.

Ugh, I'm responding to the text you linked to, which isn't the WPA. Among other things, it says:

Section 5(c) requires the President to remove the forces at any time if Congress so directs by concurrent resolution; the effectiveness of this subsection is uncertain because of the 1983 Supreme Court decision on the legislative veto. It is discussed in Part II of this report.

You have to scroll down (I should have said that) to get to the WPA in the link, but here's a more direct one (which I didn't see before hand). Here's the discussion of the legislative veto (scroll up a tiny bit). I haven't read Chadha since law school, so its hard for me to comment on its applicability to the WPA beyond what's in the report.

sglover: I think you're missing the point. The question I'm asking these officers is essentially this: If two branches of legitimate civilian authority are in exact opposition, which one would you listen to, defer to?

In that case it is clearly the President. Their oath is specifically to the constitution, the President, and their superior officers:

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

They follow the Commander in Chief. Congress is not even in the mix.


Has there been a precedent where the president used the war powers against the explicit will of Congress?

Yes:
Twenty-six members of Congress later sued the Clinton administration on the grounds that the bombing campaign constituted a violation of the War Powers Act. Mr. Clinton's Justice Department argued at the time that the War Powers Act not only gave the president the authority to drop the bombs on Belgrade — over two congressional votes rejecting a declaration of war on Yugoslavia — but that he was not required to seek congressional approval because Congress had appropriated the funding to launch the air offensive.

Congress explicitly said no. Clinton went ahead anyway based on the War Powers Act. (I agree with that decision BTW.)

HRC defended that decision as well. This of course is good for a chuckle from this side of the aisle now that she is “demanding” Bush get permission from Congress.

OCSteve - you NYSun link's broken.

(apologies if this shows up multiple times... posting is flakey right now)

---

here's a 1995 GOP memo declaring that Congress should deny the funds that would allow Clinton to send troops to Bosnia.

chuckles all around, i guess.

you NYSun link's broken

Thanks. Let me try again.

chuckles all around, i guess.

Yup.

I don't think that qualifies. Note that he was sued by 26 members of Congress, not a majority, and that the basis for saying that "Congress explicitly said no" is that they didn't pass a declaration of war against Yugoslavia. In our current post-declaration-of-war world, that's not being squarely at odds. Squarely at odds would be a law, passed through Congress, forbidding an action that the President took anyway, or a lawsuit signed onto by enough members of Congress to pass such a law.

LB: Fair enough.

Yeah. One way Executive powers get expanded is that confrontations are scary, and the President is better positioned to not back down, because there's just one of him. To force a confrontation, you need 278 Congresspeople to stand their ground (I think -- half + 1 of the house, and 60 senators?) and that's hard to hold together. So it's hard as anything for Congress to force a Constitutional crisis over something that isn't a huge, huge deal, even if enough of them might want to on some level.

test

One last try, the house passes a non-binding resolution opposing the surge, and the wailing at Bizarro World commences almost immediately.

I’m going to wail a little myself. But I’m taking myself down to my trusty pub to do so.

I’m going to wail a little myself. But I’m taking myself down to my trusty pub to do so.

Oh come on OCSteve, a nonbinding resolution disapproving of the President's "surge" in Iraq is cause for wailing (or, in the words of "Mark I", "sound[s] the first strains of retreat from the Congressional bugle", or in a comment "I wonder if historians, millennia from now, will mark this day as the day freedom began its retreat into darkness, and the day our society refused to rage against that darkness.")?

This is about the most mild thing they could do while expressing disapproval and BW treats it like we just surrendered.

Wait: the resolution is so effective at undermining our national will that now we're retreating from bugles?? What's next: retreating from really wimpy instruments, like piccolos?

Wait: the resolution is so effective at undermining our national will that now we're retreating from bugles?? What's next: retreating from really wimpy instruments, like piccolos?

It's worse than that. They aren't talking about the brass instrument, they're talking about the corn chips.

Wait: the resolution is so effective at undermining our national will that now we're retreating from bugles?? What's next: retreating from really wimpy instruments, like piccolos?

Or the French Horn, the ultimate humiliation.

We bassoonists thought the french horn guys were cool.

We bassoonists thought the french horn guys were cool.

Yes but did you play the french bassoon and then retreat from it?

I'm drowning my sorrows with you, OCSteve, but for different reasons. I did blow off the stories about 30 to 40 possible Republican votes for the resolution as reporters falling for the opposition's expectations game, but truthfully, I did expect at least 20.

But hey, if they want to go down with Dear Leader, let 'em. Even under the best-case redistricting, my Congressional district will elect Republicans to the end of time. We're in the bottom 10 out of 435 for likely Dem pickups. But it's hard for me to imagine what Republican representatives in the #225-275 slots are thinking.

And, since the thread's taken the tangent it has, I want to join Slarti in standing up for the coolness of French horn players. (My father was one.)

Weighing against that is the report from one of my oldest friends who's the #2 horn in a community band, whose conductor told them after a recent rehearsal for an upcoming concert: "It will be impossible for the French horns to play too softly."

An orchestral instrument thread, just what we need. I'm a horn player, any others from that fraternity (or sorority) here?

I've always thought there was an interesting relationship between double reeds and french horns and I think it has to do with being minorities within their classifications (woodwinds and brass)

LB is right--that's the grounds that the case got tossed on if I remember right: Congress hadn't done all it can.

I name no names.

Seb has his own blog?

Seb used to have a site. I think it's gone to that big 404 In The Sky, though.

Contra Joe Lieberman(who probably now believes the Supremes were right in 2000), the Supreme Court is not going to decide between Cong and Prez on the war power. It would be up to Cong to impeach. My scenario simply assumes that Cong would exercise the responsibility it has to actually legislate rather than nonbindingresolupontificate and then leave it to the people (still the sovereign) to exercise their responsibility with their Prez and Cong vote in 2008. Real fear of how that vote might go if the Prez did not follow the law might enable some GOPers to push the Prez to obey the law, plus a SecDef who could be impeached might resign rather than pass the Prez order onto the military as with Richardson and Ruckelshaus in Watergate.

this is terrific fodder for my clinton biography, "the audacity of hos."

Btw, can the president appeal against an impeachment? Let's say one party gets a majority sufficient to impeach and has no actual crimes to hold gainst the pres but impeaches nonetheless because the pres is from the other party.

I vote for the bassoon and if that fails the flute.

Hartmut: Btw, can the president appeal against an impeachment? Let's say one party gets a majority sufficient to impeach and has no actual crimes to hold gainst the pres but impeaches nonetheless because the pres is from the other party.

Apparently when there's no evidence of any actual crimes, but the other party has the majority (and the media) on their side, you can still impeach the President.

Ugh: This is about the most mild thing they could do while expressing disapproval and BW treats it like we just surrendered.

We did.

I have little doubt that 30 years from now historians will point to this resolution as the point we threw in the towel. The Shiites will be the new Khmer Rouge and the locations will have names much different than Choeung Ek but the body count will be much the same.

If you had told me five years ago that I would ever feel sorry for the Sunni I would have laughed in your face.

Enough histrionics? Do I qualify for my BW account yet?

And this is the biggest act of political cowardice I have ever seen. It is beyond reprehensible. You want to de-fund the war than just stand up and do it. “Slow bleed” is right, but it is the troops who will be doing the bleeding.

I have little doubt that 30 years from now historians will point to this resolution as the point we threw in the towel.

We threw in the towel the day Bush decided to invade without a plan for the occupation. It's cost more than three thousand Americans and countless Iraqis their lives and made Iran the regional power. It will go down as the worst strategic mistake in U.S. history, unless Bush decides to attack Iran.

Worst strategic mistake in U.S. history? Worse than Market Garden? Worse than the decision to join WWI, which cost us over 116,000 dead and another 200,000 plus wounded?

Iraq was a blunder, but I think calling it the worst in U.S. history betrays a rather parochial view of American history.

Huh I thought " It will go down as the worst strategic mistake in U.S. history, unless Bush decides to attack Iran." was a huge understatement.
Martin van Creveld thinks it was the worst blunder since the Romans invaded Germany. I think it was the worst stategic blunder in recorded history.

Andrew,
Not meaning to pick nits, but I don't think you can compare WWI, where the US stepped forward to join the primary powers of the world (as well as enter the field of world politics as a player rather than an observer) with invading Iraq because Sadaam tried to kill Bush's daddy. Something like WWI was inevitable. Iran was anything but.

As for Market Garden, it was a 5 day battle, while Iraq has been going on for 4 years.

If you are busy, don't feel like you need to reply, but what would you say to Iwo Jima being a strategic blunder of similar proportions, given that almost 7,000 died and almost 20,000 were wounded, for an island which was not of any real strategic importance?

This is not to rank Iraq on a scale of horrors, (who knows, something good may come out of this, stranger things have happened) but I found the two examples you gave were interesting, and I wonder why they came up for you.

We threw in the towel the day Bush decided to invade without a plan for the occupation.

I’ll agree with you completely that Bush owns that. Republicans own that. I own that for voting for them. I’m one of those enablers – an initial supporter of the war and a chickenhawk to boot. I was wrong and I admit it and I own it.

But Democrats own the endgame now. As well as punishing the GOP for their corruption and sleaze I had hoped that putting Democrats in charge would force them to take this thing seriously and stop playing politics with it. This resolution is crap but not nearly as bad as Murtha’s “slow bleed” plan. This is one of the most despicable things I have ever read from a politician:

"They won't be able to continue. They won't be able to do the deployment. They won't have the equipment, they don't have the training and they won't be able to do the work. There's no question in my mind,"

I can understand cutting funding completely and forcing a withdrawal. I fear the result will be genocide, but at least it is an honest move, the result of convictions, however wrong I think they may be. What Murtha is suggesting is pure political cowardice and an actual threat to the deployed troops.

I’m so mad this morning I should really just get off these internets. The email I just sent my representative Congressman Gilchrest who voted for this resolution may result in a visit from the Secret Service.

OCSteve- Most people here seem to believe you are sincere. I wonder how anyone who says what you say can be. Jack Murtha was a marine for over 20 years, he served in combat. Do you seriously think that he will do anything that in any way makes it tougher for soldiers on the ground to survive.

I'm not even going to look up your Murtha quote. I know that it is out of context. He's working to force the administration to pull out. Not to hurt the troops.

You need to go looking for some real evidence, and when you don't find it you need to come back here and admit you were wrong as if you are a man.

"as if you are a man"

That bit of gratuitous waspishness undercuts everything else you said.

Andrew, although the decision to join WWI was costly in terms of the lives of soldiers, it wasn't a strategic mistake, but a humanitarian mistake. Imagine what the world would have looked like had the US no intervened? Germany victory, most likely, once the Russians were finally out. (And once you discount the impact of the influenza pandemic, which seems to have originated in the US, on German army.) Versailles would have been worse, that's for sure.

As much as it is, and should be, your primary focus, the driving force of the strategic decision making isn't how many soldiers are, or are not, lost. It's how the interests of the US fare.

Now, if you narrow the focus to only the military interest, and not the whole national interest, you still end up with the Iraq war being a pretty big mistake. Obviously not in terms of lives lost (although each is precious) but in terms of how the military cability, as a whole, is impacted. Take the best likely case scenario for Iraq, and you still end up with a degradation of capability, relative to the whole, that overshadows (imruo) the consequences of Market Garden.

Geez, what a typo-filled mess that is.

JakeB- You are right.

OCSteve- I apologise. I am angry too.

CharleyCarp- "a degradation of capability" is nice way to put it. Even in that best case scenario the skills the insurgents have learned fighting the US military will spread to other nations and groups that perceive themselves as possible adversaries. I think it is a lot easier for muslim groups to add to the curiculum of a training camp than it is for the US military to greatly change its equipment and doctrine.

And Steve -- think about what you're saying. You're saying that any damage to our military from what you describe in this way:

I can understand cutting funding completely and forcing a withdrawal. I fear the result will be genocide, but at least it is an honest move, the result of convictions, however wrong I think they may be. What Murtha is suggesting is pure political cowardice and an actual threat to the deployed troops.

Is all on the Democratic party. Taking your assessment of the situation as absolutely accurate, for the sake of argument (which, not to be misleading, I don't), any threat to the troops still comes from their civilian leadership in the Administration. You're saying that in a political environment that makes it possible to keep the troops in Iraq, but not to do so 'safely', the Administration will keep them in Iraq regardless of the dangers to them; and putting the responsibility on Congress to fold when the Administration decides to play chicken with our soldiers' lives.

Bush can bring the troops home whenever he wants to. Blaming Congress alone for what happens if he doesn't can't possibly make sense.

Jack Murtha was a marine for over 20 years, he served in combat. Do you seriously think that he will do anything that in any way makes it tougher for soldiers on the ground to survive.

That’s why I am so angry about it – if anyone should know better it is him. I’m not taking the quote out of context. The entire article is about how the Democrat’s don’t want to be blamed for cutting funding, so the new plan is to put conditions and strings on the funding such that units can not be deployed.

Top House Democrats, working in concert with anti-war groups, have decided against using congressional power to force a quick end to U.S. involvement in Iraq, and instead will pursue a slow-bleed strategy designed to gradually limit the administration's options.
Led by Rep. John P. Murtha, D-Pa., and supported by several well-funded anti-war groups, the coalition's goal is to limit or sharply reduce the number of U.S. troops available for the Iraq conflict, rather than to openly cut off funding for the war itself.

As described by participants, the goal is crafted to circumvent the biggest political vulnerability of the anti-war movement -- the accusation that it is willing to abandon troops in the field. That fear is why many Democrats have remained timid in challenging Bush, even as public support for the president and his Iraq policies have plunged.

Pelosi and other top Democrats are not yet prepared for an open battle with the White House over ending funding for the war, and they are wary of Republican claims that Democratic leaders would endanger the welfare of U.S. troops. The new approach of first reducing the number of troops available for the conflict, while maintaining funding levels for units already in the field, gives political cover to conservative House Democrats who are nervous about appearing "anti-military" while also mollifying the anti-war left, which has long been agitating for Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to be more aggressive.

They’ll maintain funding for those already deployed, as political cover. But they’ll also micromanage troop rotation. Ultimately what that will mean is that units won’t be able to leave Iraq when they are supposed to. Men and equipment will be pushed beyond their limits (more so than they are now).

As I noted, while I would strongly disagree with cutting funding at least I would credit them with acting on their convictions. I call this political cowardice because they are trying to accomplish the same result but avoid taking the credit/blame for actually cutting funding.

Managing troop rotation is not an easy task, and Congress interfering in that process is just plain wrong. It won’t just impact the surge – it will have a definite impact on those already deployed.

“goal is to limit or sharply reduce the number of U.S. troops available for the Iraq conflict, rather than to openly cut off funding for the war itself” – I think that is despicable.

Bush can bring the troops home whenever he wants to. Blaming Congress alone for what happens if he doesn't can't possibly make sense.

But we know Bush is not going to. Congress can force redeployment by not approving the money. It’s this political triangulation I can’t stomach.

OCSteve: As I understand it, when Murtha said this:

"They won't be able to continue. They won't be able to do the deployment. They won't have the equipment, they don't have the training and they won't be able to do the work. There's no question in my mind"

He wasn't saying that his (or any Democrat's) proposal would prevent the troops from being properly equipped and trained and able to do the work; he's saying that his proposal will require that troops be properly equipped, trained, and ready before they are sent, and since they aren't (for reasons that are not his or any Democrat's doing), that will impede their being sent over.

I am torn about this. On the one hand, I agree with Andrew's points here:

"The result, however, while it may be great for troops who aren't in Iraq when the legislation is passed, means that those troops still over there will suffer higher casualties and longer tours. Not the kind of support I'd ask for. If these requirements are tacked onto deployments, the Army will have little choice but to attempt to meet them, which will mean that units currently in Iraq will have to stay longer because it now requires more work to get their replacements into country. Further, whatever hope there is for defeating the insurgency depends on getting additional boots on the ground. By preventing that, the Democrats will establish a worst-of-both-worlds situation where we won't send additional troops to improve the situation, but we won't bite the bullet and pull those we have out."

On the other hand: a lot of the ways in which decisions are being made about Iraq are shaped by the fact that we have a President who seems wholly uninterested in the views of anyone other than himself and Barney. If he was interested in taking into account the views of the majority in Congress, or the American people, or the Iraq Study Group, or even significant chunks of his own general staff, then we would now be watching a bunch of people trying to come together and reach some sort of consensus.

As things are, however, the only way to get him to change his conduct in any respect is to actually force his hand. I've always thought this was the only decent argument for a timetable: if you require Bush to reduce troops levels as much as is reasonable, and as quickly as possible, without setting deadlines, he won't do anything. Thus, if I were a Congressperson and I wanted to enact something that actually led to the troops being pulled out, I'd support a timetable, even though I generally think that announcing such things publicly makes no sense.

Likewise here: as far as I can tell, literally nothing short of forcing this President's hand will do the trick. When you have to force someone's hand, you typically end up with worse options than you'd have otherwise, and I think this is true here.

Ask yourself: suppose you wanted to cut off funding, and you also wanted to ensure that the effect on the troops in the field was as small as possible. How would you do it? If you cut the defense budget by the cost of the surge, Bush would probably just shift money out of some other program to cover it. If you cut the money allocated for Iraq, I do not put it past this President to send the additional troops anyways, but cut back on their equipment, and blame that on the Democrats. And we should not in any case make it possible for our troops to go over without the best equipment and training they can get.

If you said: no money for extra troops, then someone might rightly ask: what if some unforeseen circumstance comes up? Are you micromanaging the war? Etc. I would still rather go this way, although I suspect that it would be very easy for Bush to get around if he chose, and I think he would.

What I think there is to be said for Murtha's idea of not letting any troops be sent over unless they meet readiness standards is: it stands a chance of actually tying Bush's hands, and of doing so in a way that makes it hard for blame not to go where it deserves. As I understand it (and I welcome correction), a lot of our units do not meet readiness standards. We have not replaced equipment the way we should; we have not expanded the army to allow returning troops the leave and retraining time they need; we have not done any of this stuff. And the reason for this is that the administration and the previous Congress didn't bother.

They are, as they have been all along, asking the troops to go in without doing a good job of supporting them. The only reason Murtha's plan has any chance of working is that this is true -- if the administration had taken care to ensure that all units did meet readiness criteria, then Murtha's requirements would make no difference at all.

I mean: to me it should not be a problem to insist that soldiers be allowed to take leave after a deployment, and then retrain, before being sent out into battle again. It might be a problem at first if we went to war unexpectedly, but it's the kind of problem we should obviously have taken steps to address.

All that said, though, I am truly torn. I would untear myself in a hurry, though, and start writing Murtha impassioned letters and trying to raise the liberal blogosphere in revolt, if someone could convince me that there was a better way to stop Bush from doing this.

OCSteve: since I cross-posted with you: the article portrayed the Democrats as worried about not wanting to look like they are abandoning the troops in the field. Personally, I do not want to actually abandon the troops in the field, and who cares how it looks.

I do not trust this President not to respond to a way of cutting funding that allows this response by actually cutting support for the troops in the field, and blaming it on the funding cut. I want a way of cutting funding that prevents this, while also preventing him from carrying out the surge.

The reason I'm torn about Murtha's proposal is that it's a way of doing this. The President can spend as much money as he wants equipping and supplying troops in the field. Nothing in Murtha's proposal prevents that. What it does is what we want to do: namely, prevent the President from sending more troops to Iraq, as opposed to hurting those who are already there.

The hitch, of course, is that the troops might need reinforcements. But: (a) we could have and should have taken steps to ensure that those reinforcements would have the training and equipment they need, but apparently this admin. hasn't seen fit to do so; and second, the troops don't strictly speaking need reinforcements, in the abstract; they need them only given a certain strategy. It is always, obviously, possible to scale back one's goals to suit the number of troops one has. The President has been asking the military to do this since before the war started. (Think Rumsfeld v. Shinseki.)

This proposal does not harm the troops. Nor would it constrain the President's freedom of action if he hadn't been shortchanging the troops all along.

As I said, though, I am open to other suggestions about how to do this. But please recognize that it's a solution to a hard problem -- how to force the President not to go ahead with the surge -- that we would not need to be solving if he were willing to listen or to compromise.

And, OCSteve, last comment: this is one of those moments when I think blogs can shine. I don't think I would have had anything like as clear an idea of why Murtha's proposal might make people furious if you hadn't written (and also: if I didn't virtually "know" you well enough to take what you say very seriously.) It matters immensely to me that I have the chance to really understand people who disagree with me, and for that I thank you.

Hil: As I understand it (and I welcome correction), a lot of our units do not meet readiness standards.

What I took away from the article and the video was the feeling that Congress would tinker with those standards to make it impossible for any unit to meet the criteria. That is speculation on my part and I’ll hold off on that until I see an actual bill.

The rest of your points are well taken – but Andrew expressed my concerns in more detail than I was able. I feel this will have a huge impact on the troops there now. How do you identify that a unit is part of a surge vs. a normal rotation? I suppose if the number go above X then you call it surge. My concern is that there will be a real impediment to what would otherwise be normal rotation.

It matters immensely to me that I have the chance to really understand people who disagree with me, and for that I thank you.

Anytime :) For my part, my blood pressure has gone down quite a bit after reading your calm and rational analysis. I thank you for that.

OCSteve: any time back at you. -- I think it matters a lot whether the standards are tinkered with -- e.g., whether something like this -- ""We will set benchmarks for readiness," said a top Democratic leadership aide" -- means (a) we will set benchmarks -- condition funding on certain standards being met -- and those standards will be (the existing) standards for readiness; or (b) we will create a whole new bunch of standards, like having 20,000 pairs of boots per soldier, and then say ha ha! you can't meet them!

I oppose the second, unless someone convinces me that the standards are, really and truly, good standards for readiness that troops actually should be able to meet before they go off to combat (as opposed to: good hoops to make the administration jump through.) It's the first I'm torn on, and the reason I can see supporting it, as opposed to a more straightforward approach, is just that I am not sure what else will manage to cut off funding for the surge w/o cutting off funding for the troops who are there.

As I said, though, I'm open to suggestions.

Oh -- one more thing -- you asked: " How do you identify that a unit is part of a surge vs. a normal rotation?" My understanding -- which might also be speculation -- was that Murtha intended to say: no troops get to go to Iraq unless they meet readiness standards. If you're not in iraq, it applies. So, yes, it would affect normal rotation.

But I'll follow your lead and wait to see what actually happens.

Wow, Andrew – I agree with 100% of your post linked by hilzoy. You captured every detail and specific that I wasn’t able to get down.

I guess this has pushed me to the point where I think we need to pull the plug. I still have immense fears about what happens then – but if we’re going to start playing games like this then I think its time to leave the Iraqis to their fate.

If the Democrats believe they have a mandate, if they believe they were put in power to end this thing - then just do it. No games - just do it. They can vote against continued funding in April I think. I never thought I’d get to this point. But here I am.

Frank: Thank you for the apology – I missed that earlier. I didn’t want to get into it with you so I just ignored it – but I appreciate you saying that.

I’ve been accused more than once of being dishonest/insincere in my comments and I’m never sure what to make of it. Usually I just assume that I am not communicating clearly.

As far as admitting when I am wrong – well it happens about once a week around here.

Andrew, OCSteve, others who object so strenuously to the Murtha proposal:

Hilzoy's expressed my thoughts very well. There are outcome as well as political reasons to think that it might be a better choice than pure funding cutoff.

But before getting too deep in those weeds, I'd like to know if you believe there is anything Congress can do to end the occupation that can be done without hurting the troops? Because I assume you would hold that voting down the Pentagon supplemental would do that; please correct me if I'm wrong.

It was clear at the lobby day briefings in DC on Jan 28-29 that there is not complete unity among activists and organizations who are focusing on legislative avenues to end the occupation. One of the clearest divisions is between those who take a hard line on de-funding, including the supplemental (motto: "You can't simultaneously oppose the war and fund it") and those willing to support funding with conditioning, timelines, etc. (of which the Murtha approach is just one possibility).

Those taking the hardest line against funding are the members of the Iraq Vets Against the War and Military Families Speak Out. Those most willing to support other approaches are those closest to the Democrats and involved with electoral politics. In general, firmness against funding increases with distance from electoral politics.

I say "in general", because despite my own involvement in Dem politics, I tend to be a hard-liner on cutting off the funding.

But I've been more willing to look at the Murtha and other approaches exactly because of my concern that even in the (currently-remote) event that Congress summoned the will to cut funding, the administration would find a way around it.

I regard the abuse of stop-loss and the Guard and Reserves, the lowering of standards for recruitment in the Army and Marines (especially the increase in criminal waivers), and the many other ways in which the services are being damaged by this open-ended deployment as the administration holding the troops hostage to a failed policy.

A friend's son is due to come home this spring from his fifth tour (he's an Army National Guard medic). It's just not right that he should have to go back ever, much less without a full year or more to recover.

Coverage of the kind on offer at the Politico is always, always going to focus on the politics and positioning and almost never on the substance of the issues. That's what it's there for; the name is truth in advertising.

For that reason, I consider it unfortunate that the Politico post is the first close examination of the Murtha proposal by mainstream media (unless I've missed some other coverage, and would welcome pointers).

I don't think that qualifies. Note that he was sued by 26 members of Congress, not a majority, and that the basis for saying that "Congress explicitly said no" is that they didn't pass a declaration of war against Yugoslavia. In our current post-declaration-of-war world, that's not being squarely at odds. Squarely at odds would be a law, passed through Congress, forbidding an action that the President took anyway, or a lawsuit signed onto by enough members of Congress to pass such a law.

Let me stipulate that Lizardbreath wasn't endorsing what she describes as the Clinton Administration view in this case. But it's important to note that it is utterly, completely fucked up and evil.

Nell: Let me chew on that overnight. I’m just getting to the point where I think de-funding might be the way to go today. Understand that it is not because I believe it is the right thing, but I think alternatives are worse for our troops in the field.

But you scored big with this: “A friend's son is due to come home this spring from his fifth tour (he's an Army National Guard medic). It's just not right that he should have to go back ever, much less without a full year or more to recover.”

That hit me in the gut, hard. Fubar.

Jim: Oh, I'm really not happy with our current post-declaration-of-war world. I'd like to have seen a War Powers Act that made it clear that anything beyond some very small number of US troops engaged in combat was a War, and that that couldn't happen without either a Declaration of War, or under some tightly defined definition of emergency that Congress had to either approve by declaring war or, in the absence of such a declaration, had to stop within, say, a week. In an emergency, I figure Congress could declare war in a week.

But that's what I'd like, and think best expresses the intent of the framers in giving the power to declare war to Congress. It doesn't have much relation to our last couple of centuries of history.

Jim: Oh, I'm really not happy with our current post-declaration-of-war world. I'd like to have seen a War Powers Act that made it clear that anything beyond some very small number of US troops engaged in combat was a War, and that that couldn't happen without either a Declaration of War, or under some tightly defined definition of emergency that Congress had to either approve by declaring war or, in the absence of such a declaration, had to stop within, say, a week. In an emergency, I figure Congress could declare war in a week.

But that's what I'd like, and think best expresses the intent of the framers in giving the power to declare war to Congress. It doesn't have much relation to our last couple of centuries of history.

OCSteve:

If the Democrats believe they have a mandate, if they believe they were put in power to end this thing - then just do it. No games - just do it. They can vote against continued funding in April I think.
I missed when the Democrats achieved 60 votes in the Senate. Until that happens, your demand seems to be based in some reality other than our own.

Andrew:

Worst strategic mistake in U.S. history? Worse than Market Garden? Worse than the decision to join WWI, which cost us over 116,000 dead and another 200,000 plus wounded?

Iraq was a blunder, but I think calling it the worst in U.S. history betrays a rather parochial view of American history.

Frank:
I think it was the worst stategic blunder in recorded history.
My two cents: Iraq was a much worse strategic mistake than Market-Garden, because the measure of how large a strategic mistake is is not the humanitarian one of how many people died (although likely far more Iraqis have died than Allied soldiers in M-G ["he 82d Airborne lost 1,432 killed and missing during Operation MARKET-GARDEN, and the 101st sustained 2,110 casualties. 82d Airborne finally started withdrawing on 11 November, after incurring an additional 1,682 casualties, followed on 25 November by the 101st, after they suffered 1,912 more losses"; "164 aircraft and 132 gliders had been lost with USAAF IX Troop Carrier Command suffering 454 casualties, RAF 38 and 46 Groups another 294 casualties. [...] Another 6,172 aircraft sorties were flown in support of Market Garden for the loss of 125 aircraft, against 160 enemy aircraft destroyed. 10,300 troops of the British 1st Airborne Division and Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade had landed at Arnhem, some 2,587 escaping (1,741 from British 1st Airborne, 422 from the Glider Pilot Regiment, 160 Poles and 75 from the Dorset Regiment) in Operation 'Berlin' and some 240 later with the help of the Dutch resistance. The Germans claimed to have taken 6,450 men prisoner. The Poles took 378 casualties, with 101st Airborne suffering 2,110 and 82nd Airborne suffering 1,432. The British ground forces suffered some 5,354 casualties, while the German casualties, like their unit strengths are almost impossible to calculate accurately, but are likely to range somewhere between four to eight thousand."]; but how materially the failure of the operation affected the outcome of the war in question, and the overall power of the country in question.

In the case of Market-Garden's failure, the end of the war in Europe was probably delayed by a couple of months, and nothing more. In the overall course of WWII, the failure was, in fact, trivial. Hell, the Germans would have eventually lost even if there had been no Western Front at all.

Neither would I agree that U.S. entry into WWI was a strategic blunder at all, but that it in fact relatively quickly led to the winning of the war (now, much of the Versaille Treaty was a strategic blunder, but you don't even mention that).

Whereas in Iraq, the invasion was a terrible strategic blunder in its idea, launching us on a war doomed to failure, which has led to a major decline in the ability of the United States to project power in the world, as well as a vast decline in our "soft" power, and moral standing, around the world.

On the other hand, the idea that it "it was the worst stategic blunder in recorded history" is one of the most ignorant and idiotic statements I've ever read.

To be classified as even a possibility in that category, it has to be a mistake that wipes out your country's existence. I think we'd all agree that that is the worst possible outcome for a country, and anyone with the faintest clue about history knows that this has happened innumerable times. Carthage. Poland. The Austro-Hungarian Empire. Judea. The Aztec Empire. The Mayans. The Roman conquests of Britain, and a gazillion other places. The fall of Gaul. The Byzantine Empire. Nanyue. The Kingdom of Dali. Tibet. The Magadha Empire. The Mughal Empire. The fall of Kievan Rus. The Khanate of Kazan. The Principality of Moldova. The Kingdom of Aksum. The Duchy of Savoy. The Kingdom of Ghana. The Mandingo Empire. The Holy Roman Empire. The Ottomon Empire.

On and on and on and on the list goes.

Needless to say, the blunder of the Iraq War doesn't threaten the existence of the United States in the slightest.

It's not even remotely as large a blunder as, say, Britain losing her colonies that became the United States, or the Spanish losing their American colonies. Or as large a blunder as Hitler either invading the Soviet Union when he did, or declaring war on the U.S., or any number of other self-destructive decisions on his part.

Whether it's the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history is at least debatable (though I'd say that the other serious contender would be engaging in the War of 1812; having Washington burned, and the President and government flee in panic, really wasn't part of the plan, and I daresay arguably constituted greater harm to the U.S. than either our material losses in Iraq, or the damage done to our standing and influence around the world).

Saying that the U.S. invasion of Iraq is a greater blunder than the countless blunders that led to the non-existence of the countries and empires that no longer exist: not a very defensible notion.

When the United States of America no longer exists, as a result of the invasion, then someone can reasonably make that argument.

CharleyCarp, I see, got it exactly right.

"Saying that the U.S. invasion of Iraq is a greater blunder than the countless blunders that led to the non-existence of the countries and empires that no longer exist: not a very defensible notion."

Well, the US was designed by smart people to avoid this sort of blunder, and other smart people had put procedures into place to make it less likely; and the historical record and unprecedented fact-gathering apparatuses were available. "Greatest blunder in context"? Compared to say the British loss of America? That's too difficult an argument for me.

Rilkefan- Thanks. You are generous beyond my deserts.

I see in my absence that hilzoy has come along and gracioused everyone in to submission. Tough act to follow.

Gary- I was going to try to acuse you of nitpicking, but really I think you pretty much have me cold. Martin van Creveld IIRC had hedged his comment with phrases like "avoidable blunder" and "hegemonic power" and I was aiming to comment on that.

The example of Carthage got me, tho I'm not sure what exactly their blunder was really, the Med was just too small for both powers at some point.

OTOH I was replying to Andrew's statement "Iraq was a blunder, but I think calling it the worst in U.S. history betrays a rather parochial view of American history."

Which I think is pretty indefensible given Martin van Creveld's take on it.

Oh well even if I must be ashamed at being so much less gracious than hilzoy, OCSteve, and Rilkefan, at least I can still look Gary in the eye.

"The example of Carthage got me, tho I'm not sure what exactly their blunder was really, the Med was just too small for both powers at some point."

I'll certainly agree that I was simplifying, by largely giving examples of countries and empires that were wiped out, since that's a task as easy as pie, whereas debates about The Crucial Battles That Lost Wars, and the specific maneuvers in such battles and wars, tend to rapidly become vastly detailed and dense and more arguable. (There are plenty of books and essays, particularly in the past couple of hundred years, on just those topics, though, of course, often entitled variants of "[X number] Crucial Battles In History," or somesuch.)

I had a moderate amount to say about Congressional War Powers here, by the way, if anyone is interested.

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